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tv   The Rachel Maddow Show  MSNBC  September 13, 2013 1:00am-2:01am PDT

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that is "all in" for this evening. the rachel maddow show starts right now. >> thank you, chris. thank you at home for joining us this hour. when the soviet union fell apart, one of the most amazing joining us this hour. when the soviet union fell apart, one of the most amazing things about that world-changing event is that we had no idea it was coming. after decades of spying on each other, big, ornate, expensive, fascinating efforts at spying on each other, after decades of paranoia and propaganda and almost going to war with each other, over and over again, after obsessing about everything going on in each other's countries and each other's politics, for decades, when the berlin wall finally fell, november 1989, the cia had no idea. had no idea it was going to happen. the chief of the soviet division of the clandestine service in the cia, the night the berlin wall fell, he found out about it by watching cnn. that's how the poppy bush white house found out about it too. watching tv. the white house called the cia to find out what was going on
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over there in berlin, and the cia said, yeah, we're watching the same thing you are. we don't know anything about it. we're just watching it on cnn. it was amazing. they had no idea it was going to happen. and within two years of the berlin wall coming down in 1989, the soviet union ceased to exist in 1991. instead of one big, mysterious country called the ussr, the world got 15 new countries. armenia, azerbaijan, belarus, estonia, georgia, kazakhstan, latvia, ukraine, uzbekistan, of course russia. russia is the biggest. the second largest is kazakhstan. and if there is one thing that's maybe even more amazing, looking back at that time and the fact that the u.s. had no idea it was all coming, the only thing that competes with our ignorance for being as unbelievable in retrospect is the story of what happened to all the freaking nuclear weapons over there once that country spun apart.
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kazakhstan alone, if kazakhstan alone had just held on to the nuclear weapons that they had on their territory once they became an independent country, they would have instantly become the fourth largest nuclear armed state in the world. but they decided when they became independent that they did not want nuclear weapons. they had tons of them, but they voluntarily gave up all of those nuclear weapons. they gave up being a nuclear weapons state, even though it had been handed to them for free. and who knows what the world would be like if they had not made that decision. but they made that decision. the u.n. kind of commemorates it every year. they have a kind of, yay, kazakhstan, thanks for giving up your nuclear weapons holiday, that i think they only celebrate at the u.n., but, still. even though that new country, though, decided to give up all of their soviet nuclear weapons, that country did not have the option of giving up all of their soviet-era nuclear trash. out in the eastern part of kazakhstan, there is a giant old soviet nuclear test site, where the soviet union set off nuclear
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explosions, did nuclear tests. they were doing nuclear tests there as late as november 1989. they were still doing nuclear tests there the month that the berlin wall came down. it's a site the size of new jersey, roughly, about the size of belgium. and that's where the soviets set off their first nuclear test in 1949. and then over the decades, they did more than 400 nuclear tests out there. but when that place became not the soviet union anymore and it instead became this new country called kazakhstan, they shut down that place as a testing site. kazakhstan not only gave up all the weapons that were stationed in kazakhstan, they also shut down that testing site. and that was another amazing world-changing decision, but it was not the end of the story. see, one of the kinds of tests they did there was about how safe it is to stockpile your nuclear weapons. remember, the soviet union and the united states had thousands of nuclear weapons. we actually still have thousands of these nuclear weapons.
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one of the things they tested at this site in kazakhstan was, what if there's a fire? what if there's some kind of accident? some kind of conventional explosion near where you've got a bunch of your nuclear weapons stacked up? could they blow up because of a fire? because of some conventional explosion? could that sort of accident cause a nuclear mushroom cloud in your own country by accident? so to test for that, they would try to see if they could burn or blow up the nuclear parts of nuclear missiles. these tests were mostly done in tunnels and in bore holes at this giant site. and when those tests were done, they left behind piles of nuclear material. see, if you're actually setting off a nuclear explosion, if you have a bomb explosion test, that blows everything up. but these other kinds of tests actually left all the nuclear material behind. so when the soviet union collapsed and the scientists left, what they left behind there at this closed site in eastern kazakhstan, this big site the size of new jersey, was
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a bunch of bore holes and tunnels that were full of super pure plutonium and highly enriched uranium and other stuff too, but just the plutonium was enough, apparently, to make dozens of nuclear bombs and it was just sitting there in the ground, if anybody wanted to come collect that stuff. so the berlin wall falls in 1989. in 1991, they closed down that big nuclear testing facility. by 1995, the scientists who used to work there had started telling their scientist friends in the united states, um, we kind of maybe left a lot of plutonium sitting around out there. we're not sure what happened to it. but 1997, one of those american scientists, who had just retired as head of the lab at los alamos, decided he was going to go out to kazakhstan on his own to have a look to see what his russian scientist friends were worried about. economically, things were disastrous throughout the whole
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soviet union, including in kazakhstan. the official post-soviet line was, don't worry, all these nuclear sites are taken care of, they're all under guard. we don't need any help. we've taken care of all of that stuff. so dr. siegfried hecker, this guy from los alamos you see on the right there, he goes out to kazakhstan alone and he goes to that test site. and when he's there, he sends back to his friends in the united states this picture. this is how that site with all the plutonium laying around was being guarded. see the traffic barriers there that are just left up, all the more convenient to drive up and down that road. the little house there covered in graffiti, it is supposed to be a guard post, but it is abandoned. there is nobody working there. that's how well-guarded that site was. what was happening on that site, amid total economic collapse in the region, was that people had started raiding that nuclear test site for scrap metal. and it wasn't just individual guys breaking in in the night and like stealing manhole
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covers, like happens in some places here at home, even now. they were scavenging this site on an industrial scale, using excavators and bulldozers, doing everything they could to dismantle that place to find anything they could sell. they dug these long trenches with heavy machinery because those trenches contained copper cable for the phone lines between the testing sites and the control rooms and they wanted that copper cable. they dug around in those tunnels, they dug around in those bore holes filled with super pure plutonium. and who knows if they knew it was there. but imagine what it would mean for the world, for enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear weapons to have been openly for sale on the scrap markets of eastern kazakhstan. know anybody who might want to buy enough plutonium to make dozens of nuclear weapons? so american scientists visiting that site in the late 1990s kind of freaked out. and they came back to washington to say, this has to be taken care of. one of the people who helped them get approval in washington
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to take action about this was the guy with the amazing hair who just got confirmed to be our new energy secretary. he at the time was an undersecretary in the department of energy under bill clinton and he and bill clinton and the energy department and the defense department and in the senate, sam nunn and dick lugar, all of these somewhat low-profile but concerned americans looked at this situation, at what used to be the biggest nuclear testing site in russia and they said, we realize this is not in our country, but we've got to do something here. we can help. we feel a responsibility to help. we can help, so let's get this stuff locked down. and thus started an american-funded, joint american/russian secret mission to lock down that site. to lock down all that plutonium, to make it unscavengeable. not to make everything all right by all of kazakhstan, or even by this whole big polluted terrifying cold war leftover site, but at least to secure the plutonium.
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to secure the stuff that was a weapons of mass destruction nightmare. they started that program in the mid-'90s and it worked. it is now over. it was really secret while it was all happening, but now that it's over, the story is finally being told. we've linked it at maddow blog to this big new report on exactly what happened there. it's called plutonium mountain. it makes for absolutely terrifying, but fascinating bedroom reading if you want to read about it. but in october 2012, this past october, the russian scientists and the kazakh scientists and the american scientists all went out there and had a picnic at the nuclear test site out in kazakhstan to commemorate the fact that this project was finally done. and they put up this plaque. look at this little memorial, commemorating what they had done. it says, "the world has become safer." see that on the left-hand side there. it says it in kazakh, in russian and english. it says, we are done here. it took 17 years, but they did it.
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when you take a look back at the manhattan project and robert oppenheimer and all those guys, that's a story that everybody knows, at least everybody who's interested in that stuff knows it. the drama of what it took to build the atomic bomb, to build all this stuff. it is a relatively easy story to tell. the drama of learning how to throw this stuff away once we have built it is equally riveting, equally fascinating, but it is a story that is somewhat harder to tell. in part because it's a really sensitive subject. nobody wants to look like they need help, right? nobody wants to look like they can't handle something on their own. no country wants to look like it has built itself a problem that it cannot manage to fix without help. but these problems do get fixed. we do clean this stuff up. we, specifically, do clean this stuff up. americans do. in terms of nuclear cleanup and locking up loose nukes, we have done it in the former soviet union. we have done it in russia itself. we have done it even in places like freaking mexico city. we did a show from mexico city last year, showing the united states helping mexico get its
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highly enriched uranium taken out of that country, so it wouldn't end up on the black market and turn into a nuclear bomb or a dirty bomb somewhere down the road. we do this kind of work of locking down all this dangerous stuff all over the world. it is an international problem, but it is one that has our name on it. and not because it's our fault, not because we caused this problem, but because we have taken the lead role in fixing it. american exceptionalism, yes, on this issue, we have shown exceptional world leadership. and it had redounded to our own safety and to the safety of the world. and it is not exactly the same thing with chemical weapons as compared to nuclear weapons, but it is close. turns out we are particularly great at destroying chemical weapons. in part because we've had so much practice. we had so many chemical weapons that we have destroyed that we've gotten good at it. president richard nixon is the one who stopped us making chemical weapons back in 1969, but before he stopped is us making them, we developed quite an arsenal.
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tens of thousands of tons of vx and sarin and mustard gas. we started finally destroying it all in the 1990s, in places like johnston atoll and in aniston, alabama, and at the aberdeen proving ground in maryland, at the pine bluff arsenal. we are still in the process of destroying our chemical weapons in pueblo, colorado, and at a facility at the bluegrass army depot in richmond, kentucky. the local press there noted this week that they are handling vx munitions that are so dangerous that, quote, a drop of vx the size of george washington's eye on a quarter is enough to kill a healthy 180-pound man within seconds. between that and sarin, bluegrass kentucky, alone, you've got 433 tons of that terrifying stuff stored there in preparation for it being destroyed. there's another 90 tons of blistering mustard gas. our national arsenal of this stuff was huge. there was a ton of it, but it is
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now mostly destroyed. it has taken a long time to destroy it, but it is now mostly gone. the only country that had as much as us, even more than us, was the soviet union. but the process of getting rid of this stuff, whether it's over there or over here or anywhere else in the world, where the stocks have been eliminated, is a known process. it is knowable and it is known. we have experience with it. it is being done. it is underway. and like with nuclear materials and loose nukes and nuclear contamination, this is very touchy stuff. and people don't necessarily always want these stories told, but it is doable. it is technically feasible. once it is politically possible, it is technically possible. you just put one foot in front of the other. it's a process. you can get there. and syria started that process today. sending a letter to the united nations, asking to become the world's latest signatory to the chemical weapons convention. and that starts a timetable, where once they sign, they've got 30 days to declare to the
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united nations, all of their stocks of chemical weapons. once they are declared, there's another time frame in which those weapons have to be inspected. trained chemical weapons inspectors, who have done this in all the countries that have gotten rid of their chemical weapons, trained inspectors will go to the declared sites and essentially do an audit. they compare what they find at those sites to what has been declared. and then this is the really interesting part. other countries who are members of this convention can then consult their own intelligence about what they think syria's got, and they can pipe up if they think there are other sites that ought to be inspected that syria has left off its list. signing a convention, signing an international compact like this country is essentially telling each other we are all in this together. and part of what you are agreeing to when you agree to sign on to that is that the other countries who are signed on to this convention with you, they can ask for challenge inspections, if they think you've got chemical weapons at some site that you haven't owned up to. they can say, i want a challenge inspection at that site.
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there's never actually been a challenge inspection in the whole history of enforcing this thing on chemical weapons, but there could be one here. we're on new ground here. can the goal in syria be reached? and the obama administration has been saying for the last three weeks, since that alleged gas attack outside damascus, that its main goal, its immediate goal, is to stop any further use of chemical weapons in syria. regardless of the long-term challenges here, is that short-term goal of stopping syria from using chemical weapons, is that short-term goal already achieved? based in part on what happened today? joining us now is ben rhodes. he's a deputy national security adviser for president obama. mr. rhodes, thank you very much for being here tonight. it's nice to have you here. >> good to be with you, rachel. >> so a lot of the focus right now, a lot of the commentary on what's happening in this diplomatic push is how hard it's going to be to make sure that syria does this, that they actually secure their whole chemical arsenal.
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what's your reaction to that worry and that criticism? >> well, i think it is a concern. what we've seen in the last three weeks is progress that could not have been anticipated before we raised the profile of this issue on august 21st. syria had not even acknowledged that it had stockpiles of chemical weapons. now not only have they done that, they've signaled their interest in joining the chemical weapons convention. what we need to see, though, is that there is a verifiable process that is established, so not only do we have their words and their commitments, but there's a sequence of actions that are set up, so these weapons can move under international control and be destroyed through a technical process, that we'll have to negotiate with russia and the u.n. and other countries, as you indicated in your opening remarks. so there's a good prospect here that we can achieve our objective, but it's going to be a difficult process to implement. what i will say, though, is with syria invested in this process and with russia, their principal ally invested in it, we frankly think at the very least, it's a deterrent on the use of chemical weapons by assad, which would have been the objective of any military action that the president has been contemplating over the last several weeks.
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>> can you tell us if there's been any discussion or if there is likely to be any discussion about the united states and russia acting in concert in syria, to secure those weapons in much the same way that american and russian scientists and american and russian regulators have worked to lock down other dangerous weapons and nuclear materials around the world? >> well, i wouldn't want to speculate about the possibility of americans actually going into syria for this. i don't think that that's something that we're looking at at this point. what is true, though, is that in geneva, where secretary kerry is meeting with foreign minister lavrov of russia, we've brought a significant technical team with experts from across the u.s. government to meet with their russian counterparts and beginning to discuss exactly the challenge you identified. which is, how do we create an accounting of this chemical weapons stockpile, how do we set up a process whereby those weapons can be brought under control and destroyed. so there's a lot of technical discussions that have to take place, and that's starting with us and russia and geneva, even as we also have a track in the
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united nations, where we're working for a resolution that will set up a verifiable process, that will allow us to track whether the assad regime is meeting its commitments. those two tracks will take place in parallel, the technical discussion about how you do this, and the political discussion about how you get a resolution to the united nations that holds syria to account in following through on their commitments. >> ben, we have seen from the white house, sort of explanation about how this option came about, i think trying to dispel the notion that it dropped out of the sky, that it was something the russians cooked up on their own, that it was in relation to an offhand comment that john kerry really didn't mean. and there's been an explanation from the white house that essentially this was a long time coming. this was something the president himself had been advancing in contacts directly with vladimir putin and there had been other discussions about this between ours and the russian government. what can you tell us about the timing about when this option first started to seem real? and did it factor at all into
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the president asking congress to weigh in on the prospect of military strikes? was he buying time to let the diplomatic effort go ahead, even then? >> well, first of all, i was with the president in los cabos at the g-20 last year, where he met with president putin. that is the first time we engaged them in this discussion, and said this might be an area where we might work together to secure chemical weapons stockpiles given our concerns. we did not get a lot of response from the russians in terms of interest in cooperating with us on the issue. they noted their concerns, but it really didn't seem to get traction. it's been a regular part of our dialogue with them. but it wasn't really until st. petersburg at the recent g-20 meeting after august 21st attack, where the russians indicated the seriousness about this. and president putin spoke to president obama at that summit. they met on the margins the for about 20 to 30 minutes, and he raised the prospect of potentially pursuing this course of action, to get those chemical weapons under international control. now we've been skeptical in the past about whether or not russia would follow through on that type of commitment. i think what made us take this more seriously is when they put
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out a statement from the foreign minister, indicating that, number one, these had to be put under international control. number two, syria would have to come into the chemical weapons convention. and number three, the weapons would ultimately have to be destroyed. and that was a credible proposal that the russians made, and that's what provided the opening for us to pursue this. with respect to congress, the president took that decision to congress, because he felt like it was important for the nation to debate these issues. at the same time, we also understood that that would create more space for us to await the u.n. inspectors' report that is forthcoming probably next week, about what they found happened in those damascus suburbs on august 21st, and also to continue to work this issue internationally, so we could build broader support for an effort to hold the syrian regime accountable. but what we have now is essentially an opening to resolve this diplomatically. and it's old-fashioned coercive diplomacy, rachel, where you have a military threat that has prompted this kind of action. because the only thing that's changed from one year ago to los cabos is that you had the threat of military action from the united states. and that seems to have changed
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the calculus of both president putin and the obama assad regime. >> ben, thank you very much for being with us tonight. we have a heck of time getting anybody from the white house to talk to us on tv, so i'm particularly grateleful that you're here tonight. >> happy to be here, rachel. i am gob smacked to report of the return of jesse helms to the american political realm tonight and it's not for a good reason. that story is coming up. owered . you raise her spirits. we tackled your shoulder pain. you make him rookie of the year. we took care of your cold symptoms. you take him on an adventure. tylenol® has been the number 1 doctor recommended brand of pain reliever for over 20 years. but for everything we do, we know you do so much more. tylenol®.
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[ female announcer ] some people like to pretend a flood could never happen to them. and that their homeowners insurance protects them. [ thunder crashes ] it doesn't. stop pretending. only flood insurance covers floods. ♪ visit floodsmart.gov/pretend to learn your risk.
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there are a couple of dangerous and tragic situations ongoing in the country tonight. two disasters to report to you. the first is in seaside heights, new jersey. to orient you to about where seaside heights is, it's on the jersey shore about an hour and a half south of new york city. if you're not from this region, you probably became aware of seaside heights last year when pictures from the jersey shore just riveted the whole country when super storm sandy devastated that area. the town itself and specifically the boardwalk and the attractions that had been a very popular vacation spot for generations were hit very badly by sandy. sandy hit wide, wide swaths of the eastern united states, but those gut-wrenching images of the storm hitting seaside heights have become some of the most iconic images of that storm. so this was the end of october last year. this is a live shot of seaside heights right now. see the fire on the right side of your screen there? the boardwalk, that same boardwalk that was devastated by
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sandy and has been rebuilt since is on fire. the whole famous beachside boardwalk had been rebuilt this year in time for the summer's tourist season, but this afternoon, at about 2:15, an ice cream stand on the boardwalk caught fire. according to the seaside heights police chief, the flames jumped to adjacent buildings within 15 minutes and spread to at least 19 other structures. firefighters had a difficult time containing it, owing in part to a strong southeast wind that threatened to spread the fire even further. two hours after the blaze began, firefighters were ordered to pull back, because of the intensity of the flames. among their efforts has been an effort to try to dig up the boardwalk and create a trench as a firebreak, to try to keep the fire from spreading further north. earlier tonight, new jersey governor chris christie said about 20 businesses have been affected, at least 400 firefighters have joined that effort, several of whom have suffered smoke inhalation, but as of yet, we have heard of no life-threatening injuries.
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it is still burning right now. the cause of this giant fire on the boardwalk in seaside heights, new jersey, remains unknown. across the country in boulder, colorado, a natural disaster of an entirely different kind hit that town over night when a drenching and extended rainstorm caused dramatic and very dangerous flash flooding. nbc news's miguel almaguer reported it tonight from boulder. >> flash flooding is imminent. >> reporter: a day of chaos and confusion, as torrential rain pounds boulder, washing away homes, cars, and causing at least three deaths. >> they may not let you go back up that far. >> reporter: with thousands forced to evacuate, many were trapped by washed out roads. it started overnight with little warning. gary chambers and his wife were about to abandon their home when they heard a thunderous noise. >> a loud crashing sound. just the boulders coming down the hill. the deck getting tore off the house. i don't know what all it was, but it sounded very destructive. >> reporter: dive teams were called in to perform rescues. >> you need another hand?
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>> but it was neighboring depending on neighbors to reach dry ground. >> something we had never seen here before. >> reporter: this is what paul talbot saw outside his front door. >> we're from new england. we've been through some of the worst blizzards, rainstorms. >> reporter: he's ridden out hurricanes before, this was different. >> i've never seen rain lake this come down for so many days, just nonstop. >> reporter: with part of the university of colorado campus underwater, hundreds of students were ordered to higher ground. >> we are pleading with students and people on this campus to stay indoors. >> 12 dams have overflowed, sending a wall of water downstream. >> when the water came through, it came through as a torrent. >> reporter: 7.2 inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. an all-time record. >> this is insane. >> yep. >> reporter: floods have devastated this region before. in 1976, the big thompson flood killed 145 and cost $40 million in damages.
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from behind his camera, paul sterling watched the water rise and then pour into his home. like so many others, helpless against mother nature. >> it's about to come in to my downstairs. i'm not even going to go down there. >> tonight the damage is still being tallied and the danger isn't over yet. >> that's nbc's miguel almaguer reporting from boulder, colorado, today. i have to tell you that tonight's weather forecast in boulder is sadly for more rain, as much as half an inch on top of the nearly 2 inches that have already fallen tonight and rain is in the forecast there tomorrow as well. sop this is not over in boulder. ongoing worries in both seaside, new jersey, and in boulder, colorado, tonight. we will keep you posted. we'll be right back.
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once upon a time, not that long ago, the leader of the republican party in the senate, the top senate republican, got fired. he lost his job for wishing that a segregationist had been elected president. >> i want to say this about my state. when strom thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. wear proud of him. and if the rest of the country would have followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either. >> that was how trent lott lost his job, longing for how great our country might have been if only a segregationist candidacy had been successful at capturing the presidency. another republican in the united
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states senate today may have just had his own trent lott moment. that story is next. [ male announcer ] this is jim, a man who doesn't stand still. but jim has afib, atrial fibrillation -- an irregular heartbeat, not caused by a heart valve problem. that puts jim at a greater risk of stroke. for years, jim's medicine tied him to a monthly trip to the clinic to get his blood tested. but now, with once-a-day xarelto®, jim's on the move. jim's doctor recommended xarelto®. like warfarin, xarelto® is proven effective to reduce afib-related stroke risk. but xarelto® is the first and only once-a-day prescription blood thinner for patients with afib not caused by a heart valve problem.
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before starting xarelto®, tell your doctor about any conditions such as kidney, liver, or bleeding problems. xarelto® is not for patients with artificial heart valves. jim changed his routine. ask your doctor about xarelto®. once a day xarelto® means no regular blood monitoring -- no known dietary restrictions. for more information and savings options, call 1-888-xarelto or visit goxarelto.com. when john kerry became
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secretary of state, his seat in the u.s. senate became vacant. massachusetts governor deval patrick appointed a lawyer named mo cowen to essentially just be a placeholder for that seat until there could be a massachusetts election to fill it permanently. mr. cowen agreed he himself would not run to hold on to that senate seat and he didn't. eventually, there was a special election to fill the seat full-time and massachusetts voters chose ed marky to go to the senate. but when mr. mo cowen was sworn into the senate, to hold that seat for just a few months, something historic happened. for at hot minute, for an overlap of only about 20 weeks, while mo cowen was there, for the first time in u.s. history, there were two black people in the united states senate. congressman tim scott of south carolina was also appointed to a senate seat to fill a vacancy. he got his seat at the very beginning of the year. and when mo cowen got there in february, their overlap in the senate was historic. we had never before had two
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african-american simultaneously serving in the united states senate. and since mo cowen is gone now, we are no longer in that situation. aside from that brief overlap of those two appointed senators, every single one of the few african-americans who have ever served in the united states senate, every single one of them has serve there had alone, even back during reconstruction. the only african-american woman who have ever served in the senate is carol moseley braun, the senator from illinois. she served in the 1990s. carol moseley-braun remains the only black woman to have ever served in the senate. and she was the only black senator of either gender in the senate one august day back in 1993. so ten years ago, when she stepped on to the senator's only elevator in the u.s. capitol. she was on the senator's elevator already when a senator from north carolina named jesse helms stepped on to join her on that elevator. senator orrin hatch was also on the elevator with the two of them. and jesse helms stepped on to that elevator, he looked at senator carol moseley braun, the
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only african-american in the senate, he looked her in the face and started to sing "dixie." "dixie," the confederate anthem. senator moseley braun told the story publicly the next day and then she confirmed it to the "los angeles times," along with her press secretary, who saw it happen. senator carol moseley braun said, "he saw me standing there and he started to sing. "i wish i was in the land of cotton," and he looked at senator hatch and said, i'm going to make her cry, i'm going to sing "dixie" until she cries. the only african-american in the senate at that time. jesse helms got his start in politics in 1950 in north carolina, when his candidate, willis smith, was running against frank porter graham, who was the former president of unc, the university of north carolina. jesse helms said that unc stood for the university of negroes and communists. in that campaign, the helms side ran an ad that said, "white people, wake up before it is too late. do you want negroes working
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beside you, your wife, and your daughters in your mills and factories? frank graham favors mixing of the races." they also made up campaign literature in that campaign saying that frank graham's wife once danced with a black man. jesse helms' candidate won that race, with tactics like those, and that is how jesse helms got his first job in washington, d.c. and once he was there, once he himself was in the united states senate, he led a one-man, 16-day filibuster there against there being a holiday to honor martin luther king jr. he threatened another filibuster in the mid-'80s to protect the apartheid regime in south africa from u.s.-imposed sanctions. when he ran for re-election in 1990, jesse helms ran an ad that is one of the most famous american political ads of all time. it's called the white hands ad, and the narrator says, "you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority." vote for jesse helms.
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it was basically explicitly, vote for the white man to keep white jobs for white people. when jesse helms retired from the senate, david broder at "the washington post" wrote that he was, quote, the last prominent, unabashed white racist politician in this country. when he finally died in 2008, his "los angeles times" obituary noted that unlike other symbols of segregation, such as an governor george wallace and strom thurmond, who eventually recanted their opposition to racial integration, jesse helms held firm, until his death. that whole story of the republican party capturing the white vote in the south by becoming the party of modern white racism, saying, vote republican, white people, we'll protect you from the black people, that is not a made-up story. and it was not a subtle thing. and jesse helms whistling "dixie" in carol moseley-braun's face, saying he wanted to make her cry as the only black person in the u.s. senate, jesse helms is the personification of that.
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and always has been. never repented, never apologized. it was the whole point of his politics. jesse helms. now, watch this. >> there's another story i heard of jesse helms when he first ran, that he opened the mail and out fell a check for $5,000 from john wayne. so he spent some time trying to track down, it's not easy to figure out, how do you call john wayne, but he managed to figure out how to do so and he placed the call and the duke answered the phone. and apparently jesse helms said, you know, mr. wayne, this is jesse helms, um, i just wanted to thank you for your tremendous support in this race. apparently john wayne said, who?! and he said, well, jesse helms, i'm running for senate in north carolina. and apparently wayne said, oh, yeah, you're that guy saying all those crazy things. we need a hundred more like you!
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the willingness to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town. and you know what? it's every bit as true now as it was then, we need a hundred more like jesse helms in the u.s. senate. >> whistling "dixie" in carol moseley-braun's face in the senate elevator. we need a hundred more jesse helmses. that's what ted cruz thinks would be good for america. what happens next in this situation? ♪ honey, we need to talk. we do? i took the trash out. i know. and thank you so much for that. i think we should get a medicare supplement insurance plan. right now? [ male announcer ] whether you're new to medicare or not, you may know it only covers about 80% of your part b medical expenses. it's up to you to pay the difference. so think about an aarp medicare supplement insurance plan,
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you needed that job and you were the best qualified. but they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. is that really fair? harvey gantt says it is. gantt supports ted kennedy's racial quota law that makes the color of your skin more important than your qualifications. you'll vote on this issue next attitude. for racial quotas, harvey gantt. against racial quotas, jesse helps. >> you know what, it's every bit as true now as it was when, we need a hundred more like jesse helms in the u.s. senate. >> what you saw there was the racist white hands ad from jesse
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helms' 1990 senate campaign against his african-american challenger, harvey gantt. that was kind of par for the course jesse helms' politics. that's what he was. senator ted cruz of texas says today that the senate needs a hundred more senators just like that. joining us now is steve kornacki, the host of "up with steve kornacki" and senior writer at salon. steve, thanks for being here. >> you're welcome. >> trent lott lost his job in the republican leadership in the senate when he praised strom thurmond and said that he wished he had that -- that strom thurmond had won the presidency when he ran as a segregationist. is jesse helms kind of that same kettle of fish? >> or ted cruz? >> no, jesse helms? >> well, exactly, they're both sort of symbols of the evolution of white conservatism in the modern republican party. and strom thurmond was a democrat for most of his life, left the party to run as the dixiecrat in 1948.
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and then left the party for good when barry goldwater was nominated by the republicans in 1964. and they symbolized that sort of various sort of racialized transformation of politics in the south and the modern republican party in the south. they're both very similar in that way. where they're different, i think, is that strom thurmond, and i'll try to say this in a way that's not giving him too much credit, but strom thurmond did evolve a bit in the course of his career. and he didn't lean on racially polarizing rhetoric toward the end of his career. still a very conservative republican in all these things. jesse helms never backed away from it until the very end. won his last re-election campaign in 1996. and he kept winning, too. that's the other sort of disturbing thing. 1996 wasn't that long ago. he retired in 2002. i have a feeling if he would have run in 2002, he would have won that year. so north carolina is changing a lot, but it wasn't that long ago that a guy like jesse helms was very electable there. >> that said, and i think that's right that strom thurmond ended up being less electrifying as a racial sort of lightning rod than jesse helms was. but citing strom thurmond's pass
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and approving of it and saying, i wish we'd had more of that, was enough to cost trent lott a big chunk of his career. is ted cruz safe in complimenting jesse helms? >> well, he's safe in the sense that what trent lott had, the position he had an the prnl est he had, he serve at the pleasure of the republican establishment. so the republican establishment could take that away from him if they decided he was sort of a public liability for that. and that's what they did. the bush white house led the coup. got behind bill frist, orchestrated a coup where bill frist replaced trent lott as a republican leader. what ted cruz is and how ted cruz defines himself away from the establishment. the establishment they're squishes, i'm the conservative, purist. the problem for the republican establishment from a pr standpoint is what can they take away from ted cruz. if they go after ted cruz on something, they say this is
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terrible, shameful. he points at them and says, see it is the squishes being squishes again. within republican world, it enhances his stature. >> would the republican establishment now though even have the same instinct of being embarrassed by these comments in the same way they were embarrassed by trent lott. part of the reason the establishment wanted to get rid of trent lott, there may have been other stuff under the surface. once you said you wish a segregationist had been elected president, that's bad for the republican brand. ted cruz out there saying yeah, we needed 100 more jesse helms. forget about what he said about aids and gay people and all the rest of it. i mean, is there an instinct in the republican party establishment now, whether or not they can do anything about it, that that might be embarrassing? that that might be a bad position for somebody in a high profile position in the party to hold? >> thing is a couple of possibilities. and the trent lott story gets to
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one of them. they saw the pr liability of trent lott in 2002. but i think the real attitude among republicans who serve, he is getting a raw deal here. he got to do this. we got to throw him overboard. four years later after the 2006 midterms, republicans had openings in leadership again, and trent lott ran for whip on the republican side and was elected and retired. so he retired as the whip. that the attitude? are they embarrassed but they're afraid to say anything because ted cruz right now sort of is the pulse of the base of the party. so are there republicans who are embarrassed but they realize if i speak up, i'm going to pay a political price for that. >> they don't need to punish him overtly at all. i'm waiting to hear if any republicans are embarrassed by that or if any republicans want to step up and say no, there shouldn't shouldn't be 100 jesse helmss here. that hasn't happened yet. >> wait until the memoirs after they retire. >> oh, god, crazy making. steve kornacki, host of up with steve kornacki, you're exactly the man i wanted to talk to about this because i know you
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remember it all, hook, line and sinker. >> thanks, we'll be right back. [ male announcer ] when you have sinus pressure and pain, you feel...squeezed. congested. beat down. crushed. as if the weight of the world is resting on your face. but sudafed gives you maximum strength sinus pressure and pain relief. so you feel free. liberated. released. decongested. open for business. [ inhales, exhales ] [ male announcer ] powerful sinus relief from the #1 pharmacist recommended brand. sudafed. open up.
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snap it in and get a discount based on your good driving. stop paying for rate suckers. try snapshot free at progressive.com. >> when president obama asked congress to debate the prospect of a u.s. military strike in syria it scrambled expectations on the syria issue but also scrambled things for congress. everybody expected that by now we would be in another one of the groundhog day, pointless fights about defaulting on our debt on purpose. or, shutting down the government on purpose. and those things may yet happen, but they haven't happened yet. the prospect of voting on syria eventually got put on hold. and you can now see congress, particularly in the house, trying to get their groove back. trying to remember what it is they were supposed to be working on before they lost focus. today in addition to some new noise about house republicans about maybe getting back to that government shutdown idea, you
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also got the 41st vote in the house on repealing obama care. 41 times they cast the votes now. never had practical effect and never will. if it wasn't fun enough, 40 times, maybe 41 will be the charm. congressman john dingell take it from here. >> here we go again. time of the house is being wasted. the business of the nation. is being obfuscated. the republicans have more nonsense to put on the floor. >> tah-dah. while the house goes through this process of remembering what it is it wants to waste time on, remembering what futile symbolic action it wants to make instead of making policy, congress does have kind of a significant to-do list of substantive stuff that for some reason they feel no urgency about. feels like ancient history now, almost impossible to believe if it happened. at the beginning of the summer the united states senate actually passed comprehensive immigration reform. that happened. this year on june 27th. we all remember from civics class that bills are supposed to start in the house and go to the senate.
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on immigration reform they did the backward. john boehner wanted the senate to go first. saying the house would go after the senate did. but the senate's long done now. and the house is just doing nothing. pretending it never happened. the house has taken no action. nobody knows when or if they're ever going to. and because of that, today in washington, this happened. roughly 200 women, flooding the streets outside the intersection of independence avenue between the capital and the offices of members of the house, some of them wearing white armband and red t-shirts said women for fair immigration reform. they marched and congregated in the middle of the intersection where they sat down in a circle holding hand. cars around them. police nearby ready to charge in. the women were chanting yes we can. si se puede. just a group of women from the we belong together. they blockaded the intersection outside congress to protest the house's inaction on immigration reform. they sat in the middle of the street, chanting, calling for action on immigration reform.
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and then the police started making arrests, a ton of them. more than 100 women arrested in washington today. the police handcuffed them all and loaded them into vans as you can see. it was a big operation to get all of these people arrested. it was a peaceful situation though. the reason it was all women who were arrested because activists are trying to highlight the fact it is women and children who make up three quarters of the immigrants in the united states. until we fix this broken immigration system that we have women and children are the ones who will continue to suffer the most. the idea of fixing the broken system is not an esoteric thing. it's not a big inchoate idea. it got 14 republican senators to vote in favor of it. the senate acted. but in the republican-controlled house, so far they're just refusing to even bring it up. see there is no time, right? first of all there is lots of vacations. they had vacation earlier this month. they just got back.
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they have another vacation scheduled later this month, and they have only voted 41 times so far to repeal obama care. so really, there is no time to get to other stuff like this. we will see how long that stance is sustainable. . good friday morning. right now on "first look" -- incredible pictures from the jersey shore boardwalk still recovering from hurricane sandy. now a massive fire has ravaged the area. in colorado three people are dead as torrential rain is causing powerful flash flooding. talks continue between the u.s. and russia about what to do over syria's chemical and biological weapons. good morning. we begin with another blow to the iconic new jersey shore. the community there is still recovering from hurricane sandy and now another setback. thursday a monster fire engulfed and destroyed some 50 businesses along the boardwalk.
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